FIFA’s Half-Hearted Tackle On Match-Fixing In Soccer

Sepp Blatter as NeroIt sounds like a major investment in the important battle against match fixing in soccer around the world: “FIFA pledged to donate 20 million euros (17.5 million pounds) to Interpol to help fight match-fixing on Monday,” Reuters reported, going on to quote Sepp Blatter’s sadness and shock at the continuance of match fixing under his gaze:

“It is crucial for us to go together with political authorities, with police authorities to fight those who want to destroy our game,” Blatter said.

“I’m a sad president because, after 36 years in FIFA, I thought we would be at the end of a wonderful development of the game.”

The investment is not quite as dramatic as all the column inches devoted to it seem to be presuming. This money will be provided by Fifa over ten years, and breaks down to $5.73m in the first year, and $2.1m in the remaining nine years. According to the Telegraph, the money given to Interpol won’t actually go to investigations, but to developing preventative programmes – educating players, coaches and officials on match-fixing.

Though there’s nothing wrong with that approach, this is barely a pittance from Fifa’s coffers to tackle something Blatter described today in apocalyptic terms: “Match fixing shakes the very foundations of sport. We are committed to doing everything in our power to tackle this threat. We have to try to put an end to these activities.”

A police commissioner in Bochum, Germany, where a major match-fixing ring was smashed in 2009, offered this “chilling warning” to Fifa:

Bochum police commissioner Friedhelm Althans told reporters: “Working in international drug trafficking is very dangerous, here they have a very low risk and earn more money than they earned years before by drug trafficking,”

Althans added there were “four, five or six” more criminal gangs currently active in Europe similar to the one which Bochum police smashed in 2009.

Prosecutors believe the 200-strong ring bribed players, coaches, referees and officials to fix games in a number of European countries and then made money by betting on the results.

Six people are currently on trial in Bochum and another 14 are expected to follow.

Althans said that in the Bochum investigation, alone, around 300 matches were under suspicion including internationals, Champions League qualifying games, Europa League games down to the German fourth division.

“Around 1.7 million euros was paid to players and referees and this is barely the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “We have a new phenomenon of organised crime.

“There is indeed a worldwide network of people active in this field, it isn’t just about pursuing individual clubs and players but about attacking the roots and drive out these worldwide networks.”

Fifa generated a surplus of $631m between 2007 and 2010. Fifa has over $1.2bn in financial reserves tucked away. So this supposedly major investment to tackle a worldwide threat that Blatter says “shakes the very foundations of sport” doesn’t seem to be drawing a huge amount of that surplus to invest in its eradication.

Of course, Fifa does have other anti-match fixing investments. It has an ‘early warning system’ (EWS) that examines betting patterns to try and figure out where something fishy might be. The problem, though, is the lack of an investigative unit to get to the roots of this, something this latest investment does not (cough) fix. Months ago, the always on-the-ball Declan Hill pointed out this was the sport’s biggest need in a careful critique of a Fifa seminar on match-fixing:

Fixers are also intelligent. They spend a lot of time hiding their bets – just fixing the underdog team means that there will be no unexpected movement in the bets. The EWS guys – or any other gambling monitoring – cannot detect these types of fixes, unless the fixers make a series of errors (which they usually do not).

Finally, and this is key to understanding the entire FIFA seminar, even if the EWS spots a possible corrupt match – so what? FIFA has no investigators to investigate it. Interpol has no investigators to investigate it. The sports world in general has no investigators to investigate it. No matter what dramatic headlines declare, no matter what ‘consultants’ tell you, no matter what sports executives say in solemn tones at these types of seminars – until there is an International Agency to fight sports corruption these events will be for show only.

So who has the money to help create such an Agency? Who has the clout? Who, according to its own president, sees a clear and present danger from match-fixing to sport demanding the creation of such an Agency?

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